The Impact of a Faculty Learning Community on Two Teacher Educators
Mileidis Gort, Wendy J. Glenn, and John Settlage
Gort, M., Glenn, W., & Settlage, J. (2008). Toward Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teacher Education. In T. Lucas (Ed.), Teacher preparation for linguistically diverse classrooms: A resource for teacher educators (pp. 178–194). New York: Routledge.
The work presented here represents an initial step in a larger process of TE curriculum reform. We describe a faculty development initiative, including goals, activities, and resulting curricular changes, through the eyes of two focal participants—an English teacher educator and a science teacher educator— responding to the question: “What did participants learn as a result of this professional development experience?”
Faculty development initiative
- activities, and
- resulting curricular changes
Our work is informed by work on faculty learning communities (FLCs) as powerful catalysts for initiating, developing, and sustaining faculty involvement in professional development (Cox, 2001, 2004; Decker Lardner, 2003; Hubball & Burt, 2004; Richlin & Cox, 2004; Richlin & Essington, 2004). FLCs are promising contexts for constructing meaningful local knowledge, challenging assumptions, posing problems, studying faculty/student learning and development, and reconstructing curriculum (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; Cole & Knowles, 2000; Cox, 2004).
At the time of the study, Wendy, the English educator, was in her fifth year of teaching at the university.
John, the science educator, is also a White, monolingual native English speaker.
Millie, the bilingual educator, taught and directed the graduate program in Bilingual/Bicultural Education at the research site for five years.
Monthly meetings: to expand their knowledge about the processes of language acquisition; the role of language in learning and assessment; cultural awareness and sensitivity; and classroom implications in the areas of planning, instruction, and assessment. Two faculty members in Bilingual Education served as mentors and provided participants with various readings and related materials and activities.
Representative activities included:
• Reviewing and discussing the stages of second language acquisition and application of this knowledge to sample teacher–student linguistic exchanges in an imagined classroom setting with the goals of (1) identifying the stage of second language proficiency represented, and (2) evaluating the teacher’s response from a linguistic perspective.
• Evaluating ELL writing samples and discussing classroom teachers’ responses to these pieces and the larger issue of ELL assessment in school settings.
• Sharing and discussing state and national policies related to the education of ELLs and reflecting on how this information might help pre-service teachers recognize the necessity for differentiated instruction for ELLs.
• Reviewing and discussing the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2004) and considering how the tool might be used in conjunction with existing lesson plan formats.
• Writing personal journals focused on their experiences throughout the process.
Mentoring/individual meetings / course revision work
Between monthly whole group meetings, participants met individually with a mentor to receive more personalized support and guidance in the revision of the methods course curriculum.
Some participants implemented the first revised syllabi when they taught the methods course the following semester. Wendy implemented the syllabus changes in the subject area methods course required for secondary English Education students in the fall of their senior year, just prior to student teaching. John implemented the syllabus changes in an elective, graduate-level course for Science Education students in their third (and final) year of the program. Throughout the implementation process (including first and subsequent iterations), study group participants and a mentor (Millie) engaged in electronic discussions surrounding plans, processes, successes, failures, and emerging and lingering questions.
Impact of the Faculty Development Initiative / Findings
Lesson 1: Conscious Effort is Required to Move Beyond Ignoring, Pretending to Understand, and/or Skirting ELL Issues in “Mainstream” Content Area Methods Courses
In their methods courses prior to participation in the study group, both John and Wendy treated ELL issues as subsumed under working with culturally diverse learners.
Study group activities and experiences led to a heightened awareness of the
lack of specific attention to linguistic diversity in general, and ELLs in particular,
in John’s and Wendy’s methods courses.
By explicitly addressing language issues and the ELL population, John created
a space in his course to explore the impact of cultural and linguistic diversity
in teaching and learning science.
Lesson 2: ELL Infusion Requires a Shift in the Roles of Instructor and Student
ELL infusion compelled instructors to relinquish control of some course components to give voice to those who possessed cultural and linguistic funds of knowledge and were able to speak from experience in ways they themselves could not.
The language immersion experiences generated relevance, empathy, and understanding for pre-service teachers in John’s and Wendy’s classes. More significantly, the lessons highlighted Wendy’s and John’s own limitations as instructors. Collaboration with other experts (i.e., Carolina and Katy) who possess appropriate linguistic and cultural funds of knowledge led to an educational experience that John and Wendy themselves could not have provided given their English monolingualism and majority-culture histories and identities.
Lesson 3: FLC Experiences Led to a Revised Definition of Effective Educator
In John’s and Wendy’s revised definitions, effective educators create supportive spaces in which both language and culture are explicitly addressed so that culturally and linguistically responsive pedagogical decisions can be made.